You have to have a sense of humor to call your album “Sponge.” Catalan singer Magali Sare‘s new release, Eponja – streaming at Spotify – is playful and a lot of fun, although there’s a recurrent dark undercurrent. That’s no surprise, considering that it’s a coming-of-age record . Sare is a very eclectic singer and can reach spectacular heights. She comes out of a classical background, but here she shifts mostly between carefree trip-hop, sprightly chamber pop and more techy sounds, along with upbeat Catalan folk. If Bjork was Catalan, she might sound something like this. Sare’s inspired, purposeful band includes pianist Marta Pons, guitarist Sebastià Gris, bassist Vic Moliner and drummer Dídak Fernàndez along with occasional strings.
The lilting opening lullaby is aptly titled Hola, Sare’s voice trailing off with a little brittle vibrato at the end of a phrase. She follows with Mañana, a coy, fingersnapping mashup of trip-hop and tango: as Sare observes, love and freedom are one and the same.
Crooner Salvador Sobral joins in a rousing duet on Sempre Vens Assim (roughly translated: Your Usual Steez), rising to a mighty peak with a choir of voices and a little jaunty salsa piano. Sare reaches from a pensively fingerpicked verse to soaring choruses, toward the top of her register, in the album’s title track. It’s a somewhat more sobering look back on how children develop an ethical sensibility (the song is a lot more fun than such an explanation would imply).
Sare packs torrents of lyrics into a quirky but pensive trip-hop cabaret tune in Malifetes (Mischief), an account of a conflicted adolescence. The key line, roughly translated, is “I was emotionally blackmailed.” The deliriously crescendoing love song ETC features flamenco band Las Migas: lively verse, swoony chorus.
The narrative hits a bump in the road with No Se, circling piano phrases anchoring Sare’s metaphorically loaded account of literally being left out in the cold. A spoken-word piece set to a trippy, echoey backdrop, No Se Cantar is an amusing catalog of reasons to sing (including simply to shake people up a little).
Inframon (Underworld) is a brightly resonant tableau in contrast with Sare’s lyrics about dealing with the dark side: “You just know you’ve been there once you’re out and you aren’t afraid of falling in,” essentially. She reverts to a twinkly trip-hop ambience in M’ai Vist Mai Plorar (I’ve Never Seen You Cry): “Watch the wind lift the broken veil,” Sare muses.
She follows with the Mediterranean-tinged, elegantly fingerpicked seduction scenario No Te Edat (rough translation: Timeless), and then Niña Mujer (Womanchild), a pensive psychedelic pop study in contradictions. She closes the album with its lone classical interlude, a stately, energetic canon. You don’t have to speak Catalan to enjoy this smartly individualistic, constantly shapeshifting collection.